“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.”
David speaks of hidden errors, hidden faults, hidden sins, that is, sins he is unaware of committing. I Jn 1:9 promises that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, implying there are sins we didn’t confess — because we are unaware of them — but that they are forgiven along with our known sins at the point of confession.
Jeremiah tells us the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked. Isaiah points out that there is no soundness in us, from the tops of our heads to the bottoms of our feet. In Revelation, the Laodicean church is said to believe that they are rich, wealthy and in need of nothing, and do not know that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. And in Romans Paul speaks of himself as a wretched man, not able to do the things that he wishes, and constantly finding himself doing what he does not want to do.
I have written in the past of my experience on the hamster wheel of activities. How I come up with a list of things I want to do in a day and then proceed to attempt do them, totally focused and dependant on completing the list to feel any satisfaction at the end of the day. Sometimes I succeed. More often things go awry or I suddenly find something else I need to do as well, and pretty soon I’m stressed. Doing one thing and thinking of the next, getting more and more tense, more and more anxious and bothered with each passing moment. I have learned in those times to stop and rebound the tension, to recall that there is always time to do the will of God and that it is not His will for me to get all worried and bothered about such things. Sometimes I can maintain the resultant relaxed mental attitude. Other times not.
But what I’ve wondered is, what the heck am I doing? Where is the tension coming from? Why do I feel that if I don’t get everything done, some sort of terrible thing will happen? If I stop to think about it, I can’t even say what the terrible thing is. I don’t think that God is mad at me. Indeed, as I said, if I stop to think of God at all, I can rebound the anxiety and the harriedness and recall that I am perfect in His sight and nothing I do is going to change that. I can recall that He doesn’t need me to do things for Him, and that nothing I do out of fellowship is worthwhile anyway.
It’s not God that I’m afraid of. So what is it? I’ve asked Him to show me the answer. In recent weeks, thanks to The Artists Way, He has. Way back in Week Three, where author Julia Cameron wrote about shame:
“Those of us who get bogged down by fear before action are usually being sabotaged by an older enemy, shame. Shame is a controlling device. Shaming someone is an attempt to prevent the person from behaving in a way that embarrasses us.”
Suddenly through this and some other things that God brought into my life at the time, I started looking into shame. I had always thought it derived from having done some bad thing. And indeed, one dictionary defines it as “a powerful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous etc, done by oneself or another.” Wikipedia elaborates on this definition, however, saying that shame is directly about self — you don’t measure up, don’t amount to anything — whereas guilt is about the thing done. “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.” There is also a thing called toxic shame, which is a false, pathological shame induced in children by all forms of child abuse (sexual, physical, emotional and mental).
The website Columbia Psychotherapy talks about shame that is acquired in childhood from living in dysfunctional families:
“Shame is often experienced as the inner, critical voice that judges whatever we do as wrong, inferior or worthless. Often this inner critical voice is repeating what was said to us by our parents, relatives, teachers and peers… [It may] be caused by others expecting too much of us, evoking criticism when our performance is less than perfect… [T]hese criticisms become internalized, so that is our own inner critical voice that is meting out the shaming messages, such as: “You idiot, why did you do that? “Can’t you do anything, right?”
The notion of external criticisms and events endured in childhood being internalized into “voices” whose source you’ve long since forgotten, makes a lot of sense in figuring out what the “you better get all your stuff done OR ELSE” mentality that all too often gets the better of me. Psychologists and even Julia Cameron call these wounds, and if I look back on my childhood there was quite a bit of dysfunction. I won’t blame my parents/step-parents, though, because I think they were only passing down what they learned. And in any case, they are the ones God specifically chose to raise me and I believe He knows what He’s doing.
No, in my view all of it is a result of everyone’s sin natures, most especially my own. Reacting to the criticism and other events in my childhood, its innate sense of unworthiness (and I think all sin natures on some level know themselves to be unworthy, even if the feeling is denied) has been exacerbated, driving it in a never-ending, never satisfied quest for approval that was denied and constricted in childhood. If I can just do it all right, then I will be okay. Then I will be approved. If I don’t, then I won’t be approved in my sin nature’s eyes, and to my sin nature this is indeed a dreadful thing. It is, at base, arrogance, because in my flesh I am unworthy, no matter what I do. Realizing this has been amazingly freeing. Now when it starts I know what it is. And I can just cut it off.
I don’t need the approval of people who are dead. I don’t even need the approval of myself. As a believer in Christ, I have the approval of God, so how could I presume to want anything more? And God’s approval is based on what His Son did on the Cross, not anything I’m doing, so I might as well relax and let Him handle what it is He wants me to do in the day. Which clearly is not to bend the rules of time and space in order to do more than I am physically and/or mentally capable of doing. Nor run about like Martha, perpetually worried and bothered about everything. He wants me to be at peace. His yoke is easy. His burden is light…